The mobile telecoms landscape is changing rapidly, with nationwide 4G deployments near completion in most markets across the world. But the race is far from over, with the first Gigabit LTE networks beginning to appear and offering blazingly fast connections to end-users that can reach up to 1Gbps download speeds. ABI Research estimates that the two billion global 4G (LTE) subscribers in early 2017 will rise to exceed four billion during 2022. This means that more than one out of two people globally will be using an LTE network by 2022.
“Although most LTE markets are already saturated and most operators deployed adequate nationwide coverage, there is still room to grow,” says Nick Marshall, research director at ABI Research. “Gigabit LTE appeared this month in Telstra’s network, and we expect more than 15 mobile operators to be offering Gigabit speed services to their subscribers by the end of 2017. This is a significant development, and one that will lead to the birth of new use cases from the increase in data speed available to end users.”
Although 5G discussions and embryonic developments are well underway, ABI Research expects LTE networks to be the backbone of broadband connectivity for many years to come; Gigabit LTE provides a major improvement and lays the foundation for 5G.
In terms of total mobile traffic, ABI Research estimates a total of 109 Exabytes during 2016, rising to 522 Exabytes during 2022. This means that an average user consumes 1.2GB per month today and will consume more than 5.7GB per month during 2022.
LTE is and will remain dominant throughout the forecast period, according to ABI Research. It carries 67% of total mobile traffic today, increasing to 82% during 2022, while 5G will carry a mere 13% of total mobile data. At the same time, operator profitability is under pressure. The Average Revenue per User per month (ARPU) in the U.S. — the most lucrative mobile market — is approximately $43 [in March 2017] and will decrease to less than $35 during 2022. Network operator CAPEX is also under pressure and will continue to decrease until 2019, after which 5G deployments will ramp up.
2G and 3G networks are entering the second year of double-digit subscriber decline. ABI Research tracks 60 operators twilighting 2G and 38 operators sunsetting 3G networks, meaning no more investments in network upgrades, but in many cases consolidating infrastructure and 2G/3G combinations with 4G. Some upgrades will also prepare the ground for 5G as many vendors start to offer 5G-ready infrastructure with future upgrades being currently planned.
These findings are from ABI Research’s Mobile Networks Biannual Update report, which includes data from the company’s Mobile Traffic & Usage, Mobile Operator CAPEX, and Mobile Carrier Revenue and Profit forecasts.